Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along in Cincinnati

While the cool kids of America were dressing in green and drinking like Irishmen last night, I was gazing at an all blue stage, set and cast in Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along.  Merrily was written in 1981 and is known as Sondheim's biggest flop.  It was also the last of his shows for me to see live on stage.  I have been waiting for the right performance of it.  I found it at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.  If you are reading this before March 31st, do yourself a favor and book a ticket for the show.  This performance is directed by John Doyle who has pioneered the actor-musician form of directing.  This means that there is no pit orchestra but the actors themselves play the instruments.  This means that the flute, cello, piano, etc. are extensions of the actors and characters.  It worked with the 2006 Company revival and it works here as well.  John Doyle is to theater what Quentin Tarantino was to movies in the 90's.  He explodes everything you ever knew about the medium but always in the name of art, story and character. I know that we usually talk of television at the Red Room.  The thought that I had while I was watching the play is how amazing theater really is.  It is happening right there in front of me and I will never get to see it again.  Can you imagine if we only got to experience Twin Peaks once?  What if when Rachel crossed the apartment and kissed Ross in Season 2 of Friends, you could only have seen that one time.  I am saddened that unless this show moves to Broadway and is recorded, I will never hear Becky Ann Baker (Freaks and Geeks) sing "Now You Know" again.  I will never see Malcolm Gets (Caroline In The City) sit at the piano and sing "Our Time."  It is totally unfair because true works of art needed to be studied.  I didn't get all the intricacies of Pulp Fiction on my first viewing. I probably have not with my 12th.  As soon as Merrily ended, I asked my wife what she thought about buying tickets and seeing the show again at 8 PM the same night. We had gone to the 4PM matinee.  She agreed that it was the kind of story that needed to be seen twice; so, 2 hours later we saw the same show again.  I learned so much more.  This show is meant to be seen more than once but is done in a medium that makes that impossible.  I pray that someone brings this show to Broadway, records a cast album and a DVD.

Before the second show started a man approached my aisle, when I stood up I saw it was Dylan Baker.  He is currently starring in Smash (read my review) as Katharine McPhee's dad but I know him as the detective on Murder One.  I immediately extended my arm and shook his hand. I told him that Murder One is one of my all time favorite shows.  He said thanks and sat down.  I didn't ask for a picture or autograph (or an interview for our podcast) because I felt everyone should get to have a night out at the theater.  You rarely get to see a celebrity while you just watch TV at home which is just one more reason for actually leaving the house and experiencing a musical.  Last week, I posted a list of my top Broadway shows and I mentioned that Stephen Sondheim is my favorite.  His words and music matter so much to the character and when his art is combined with John Doyle's amazing direction it is a truly blessed evening.  I am sure that a majority of people think that musicals are just another form of a chick flick.  That is a misconception.  The evening was about choices in your life and how they affect your future.  About how old friends can hold  you back from changing or push you to change in the wrong direction.  I was emotionally spent after each performance and I looked around at the room full of elderly people who really would have preferred to hear Some Enchanted Evening sung for the 12,000th time and I was sad that tickets are expensive, musicals are out of fashion and that I will most likely never get to see this performance at home to study, dissect and learn about life.  Thank you to the cast of Merrily We Roll along for a beautiful evening.

Listen to our interview with the Editor of Six By Sondheim from HBO.

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